Bakuman 16

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 19 volumes

A Nizuma volume! It’s been a while! Crow reaches first place, and the editors are worried that Eiji will make good on his previous stipulation that if he reaches number one, he can cancel whatever series he wants in Shounen Jump. He brings it up with the Editor-in-Chief, who promises him he can if he stays in first place for ten weeks in a row.

Word gets out, and the other artists and writers featured in the series gather to try and figure out which series Nizuma is likely to cancel. Many of them think that this will be +Natural, which hasn’t been doing well in the ratings and hasn’t been good story-wise in a long time. This triggers a dramatic storyline for Iwase, who no longer believes she’s good enough to write shounen manga. Anyway, after some debate, they decide to ask Nizuma himself. Nizuma doesn’t say, but a gauntlet is thrown, and all the artists decide to write the best stories they can in order to break Nizuma’s first-place streak and force him to start the ten-week run at number one over again. Nizuma enthusiastically agrees, and the whole volume becomes a contest to see which artists and writers can outdo themselves, and how.

It’s really, really exciting, guys. It’s still got all the geeky stuff in it about what would make their specific story good, and even people that seem like they wouldn’t be any threat, like Fukuda’s car series, get really good places. Interestingly, there’s always been a gap in the first and second place spots in the chart, a series that isn’t mentioned, which I always assumed was One Piece and something else. Hilariously, that disappears in this volume, so the only series in the top of the charts are Bakuman series.

The Perfect Crime Party storyline is awesome, and is about a play on a particular image. It’s very clever, though I admit I don’t know that I would be that impressed in real life as Bakuman seems to think I would be. Then again, I’m not reading it. It’s possible it would be completely triumphant in real life, though it sounds like it does a lot of reaching and weird logical leaps, as Detective Conan is wont to do.

Nizuma’s actual intention? Awesome, admirable, and completely understandable. It’s an Akira Toriyama kind of thing, actually, and I liked it a lot. Sadly, nothing about what he’s doing is revealed or shown, but I loved all the different character reactions to it.

The end of the volume starts another storyline about a bunch of old artists that come back with unbelievable stories. Bakuman acts like you aren’t supposed to know why this is and who is behind it, but I knew where this was going immediately. Perhaps because I’m 15 years older than the target audience, so I shouldn’t gloat too much.

Man, volumes that aren’t about Shujin and Saiko make me so happy. Volumes like this are what make Bakuman such an awesome page-turner, and it’s a shame so many people were turned off by the blatant misogyny and terrible main characters in the first couple volumes. I can totally understand, but the rest of the series is so good. It makes me sad that people always call out the misogyny when I recommend it, because while it is rather offensive, it’s a non-issue after the writer realizes the side characters are more interesting. And at this point? Awesome stuff. Seriously.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 15

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 19 volumes

Reading this is still a special pleasure. The first half or so of the volume focuses on side characters again, while the second half cooks up an interesting predicament for Shujin and Saiko.

The volume starts with the tail end of the conflict with Nanamine. Nanamine is self-destructing at the end of the last volume, so there’s not much more to say on the subject. It goes through all the motions though, including a chapter where Muto Ashirogi does do the same story and compete head-to-head. But the follow-up to this is what happens to Nakai, the assistant.

Nakai isn’t one of the more charming side characters, and honestly, this story segment is a little uncomfortable. He winds up on the street, homeless and drawing portraits for 500 yen, when Nanamine fires him. The others show up and offer him work, thinking that he still wants to draw manga, but he forcibly chases them away when pretty girls walk up and want their picture drawn. This backfires on him terribly, and he gets drunk and shows up at Aoki’s house, blaming her for his troubles. This results in a fight with Hiramaru, who rushes over to Aoki’s aid.

Now, I think this fight with Hiramaru was meant to be funny. Nakai really beats up Hiramaru, who’s about as pathetic in a fight as you’d imagine. But the two of them bond, with Hiramaru sympathizing with Nakai and saying that he sees himself in ten or so years in Nakai. A lot of jokes are made. But… I mean, Nakai is portrayed as a creepy, selfish jerk who blames all of his problems on others and doesn’t like to work. I wasn’t quite sure why the story persisted in fleshing him out more, when it had gone through all the trouble of assigning his bad qualities. The fight with Hiramaru only accentuated them, and the jokes that made light of them were uncomfortable since it was kind of inexcusable behavior. So… this part. Nakai is sticking around a bit longer. Maybe he really will turn things around.

Later, a real criminal begins breaking into banks and not stealing anything, only leaving notes in the safe that allude to PCP. Shujin takes this quite hard, despite the fact that Shueisha tells him not to worry about it, and Shujin begins writing non-crimes and fouling up the stories in general. He powers through, with the help of Saiko and Mr. Hattori, just like a good Shounen Jump Hero. The story was an interesting one, especially since it reveals something about how situations like that work, but it was fairly run-of-the-mill for Bakuman.

So… a side character story I wasn’t really into and an okay story for Muto Ashirogi. This wasn’t the best volume, but even still, I really enjoyed every page and couldn’t put it down. It’s hard to complain when the book is so addictive. There are hints that Eiji will re-join the main story next volume, and any story with him in it is bound to be thoroughly insane. I can’t wait.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 14

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 20 volumes

More fun with side characters this volume. While Shujin and Saiko are still working on their goal of getting another story serialized and animated, I love that it took a back seat to the competition. It’s a new character this time around, and once again, he is more interesting than Shujin and Saiko. He’s basically one-dimensional too, which should tell you something about Shujin and Saiko.

The new character’s name is Tohru Nanamine. He used to send fan letters to Shujin and Saiko quite regularly. When they spot his name on the most promising entry in the manga contest they are judging (the story itself takes up almost the entire first chapter of this volume), they recognize him and draw the connection. Unfortunately, despite being the best, his story is too dark (it’s a lot like Future Diary, which would never run in Jump), and they can’t award it the prize. They do offer to take a look at his work and possibly serialize it, though. Nanamine comes off a loud and energetic youth, and he’s excited and agrees readily when meeting with his rookie editor.

And it starts. He posts his story on the internet and comments that it didn’t win the competition. What seems like a gaffe by a newcomer is actually a carefully calculated move to win him publicity, since the story is actually quite good. We learn that there’s a whole lot more calculation behind what Nanamine is doing than it seems at first, and most are pretty sure there’s something screwy. The problem is, his method seems flawless, and he makes amazing work. He’s also full of himself. When Shujin and Saiko express unease at his method, he challenges them to a popularity contest. And that’s this volume.

As always, the popularity contest is pretty epic, and has way more twists and turns than you may suspect a manga about manga serialization may hold. It’s volumes like this that make me love Bakuman. I just can’t put them down because they’re so well-written, and I get such a kick out of the geeky stuff.

With the ending fast approaching, and with a couple of fun volumes in a row, I’m afraid we’re going to have to get back to Shujin and Saiko’s quests. While these parts are good, and still a lot of fun, it’s such a shame the main characters are so boring. I’m still going to read volume 15 IMMEDIATELY, though.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 13

Tsubumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 20 volumes

There’s a character popularity poll in the middle of this volume. It tells me everything I needed to know to confirm that my opinions of this series are held by many. Very rarely does the main character not win the top spot in these polls. Hiramaru’s editor Yoshida won the #9 spot. Takagi, one of the two main characters, was #5. He was bumped down by Hiramaru and Nizuma, who won the #3 and #1 spots, respectively. Mashiro was #2, and apparently Japanese readers dig the relationship between him and Azuki, because she was #4. But really, you read this series to watch Nizuma freak out and Yoshida badger Hiramaru. Otter #11, the main character of Hiramaru’s fake manga, won the #6 spot in the poll, which just goes to show how much people love that guy. I’ll get back to that later.

The majority of the story this time was about Shujin and Saiko, and whether or not their partnership is in jeapordy. Shujin is trying to help launch another series, and Saiko wants to write another one-shot. Neither is really speaking to the other, and the extra workload is putting a strain on their friendship. Kaya is worried about the both of them, and it’s a bad mood throughout the volume. But it’s something they both have to do, and they also have to decide about the road they’ll take to get an anime series so that Azuki can voice it and she and Saiko can get married. It ends well, and with a surprisingly mature and level-headed view, considering the ridiculous extremes the characters in this series go to sometimes.

One of the more fun segments was the chapter or two dedicated to the fallout of the short story competition. It was fun watching the reactions to the different types of story, and I especially liked that the outcome was much different than what you’d expect. It’s always fun when a series like this can subvert expectations, even a little.

The best part of this volume. The absolute highlight. There’s a Hiramaru story arc at the end. Yoshida is running out of ideas. Even Hiramaru expresses disappointment with his methods when he out-and-out threatens Hiramaru instead of tricking him when he has to tell him to prepare a new story for serialization. Then, the tea time with Aoki happens. Hiramaru has to out-fox Yoshida in order to keep Yoshida from interfering. Yoshida worries that Hiramaru has… absconded with Aoki. Motorcycle and luxury car chases happen. They have a talk. It is one of the best talks in any manga. Ever. Those two love badgering each other in the worst way. Even Yoshida’s pep talk isn’t all that inspiring. But it is sincere. And honest.

Maybe, if I’m good, next volume will be a Nizuma story. I’m not sure that it could be as good as this short Hiramaru story. But I’ll love it anyway.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 12

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 20 volumes

On one hand, this volume has Hiramaru on the cover. He ranks right up there with Eiji Nizuma in the list of awesome characters in this series. I think I like both of them better than Shujin and Saiko. He doesn’t appear very often, which is probably for the best because he’s kind of a one-trick pony. But it’s a good trick, and I’m still not tired of his constant pleas to be allowed to rest and/or quit, and his evil editor outwitting him at every turn. I thought for a long time his editor was completely faceless, but they do show his face from time to time. Just not very often, for some reason. Probably because he is evil incarnate, and his job is to trick Hiramaru into Jump slavery again and again. I was crushed by his news at the end of the volume, but that only opens the door to more evil tricks, and again, it’s what I love best.

On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy the main story nearly as well as I did last volume. The back and forth between Eiji and Muto Ashirogi is resolved once PCP gets underway and is popular, and the story moves on to other things. Unfortunately, these other things aren’t nearly as exciting as that was, and there’s a whole lot less Eiji in this volume.

The other things are interesting story possibilities, though. One of Muto Ashirogi’s art assistants begins exploring the possibility of creating his own series, and as Shujin and Saiko begin settling into the rhythm of creating a popular weekly series, things become much more streamlined and they find themselves with more time on their hands. As they come to realize that PCP will never be animated, they begin exploring the possibility of doing a more commercial series.

There’s a great scene in this volume where Shujin and Saiko meet each other and ride their bikes to work together, stopping in a park and taking a break. They haven’t had time to ride to work together in years, and they haven’t been far enough ahead on their work to take a break since they were in junior high. As they sit and reflect on their past together and their recent success, they witness a group of kids playing Perfect Crime Party in the park. It’s a very touching scene, and I loved seeing Shujin and Saiko enjoying the fruits of their labor like that.

Setting that aside, I think the “dream” goal of the series is rather ridiculous, and it makes me a little cranky every time it comes up. They’ve accomplished so much, and all but met their goal, but it still isn’t enough. It’s a crazy thing they want, but then again, this is a manga, so of course they have to reach for the sky, despite being one of the most popular artists in Shounen Jump at the age of 22. Realistically, I think Eiichiro Oda has done that, and, like, nobody else.

The volume is relatively positive, and ends with a lot of forward momentum, but the next volume preview makes it look like there may be some rough times ahead in terms of the Muto Ashirogi partnership. I suspect that the out-of-context panel is probably a moment of weakness in a small fight, but I certainly hope that the partnership isn’t about to come into problems. Having to weather any sort of lengthy storyline about that would be unfortunate and uncomfortable, because that’s one of the best things about this series. We’ll see, though.

In short, while this volume isn’t as good as the last one, I’m still ridiculously addicted to Bakuman. I’m sure there’s better stuff to come in the volumes ahead.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 11

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 20 volumes

This series. Seriously. I could not put this volume down. It made me laugh. Parts were epic. I had to keep reading, in order to know what happens next. This volume was THE BEST. The entire thing is a game of one-upmanship between Muto Ashirogi and Eiji Nizuma, and the latter is one of the best characters ever. Muto Ashirogi are under a lot of pressure, so they’re less cool with what’s going on, but Eiji is absolutely living for the challenge.

He won me forever when he tore up the pages of his newest chapter and promised to re-draw them with a better story. Seriously. He’s a champion. I was rooting for him more than a little.

But basically, yes. Shujin and Saiko iron out the final kinks in their new series, including the title. It is now Perfect Crime Party. This is revealed in a rather epic way, where you have to turn the page to see what it is after a bit of a lead-up. Then you see the logo before you read the name. The logo is PCP, in the latin alphabet. This made me laugh harder than anything else in the volume.

Iwase is really the one that wants to compete, though. And she fights dirty. She calms down a bit after she realizes what a serious situation Muto Ashirogi is in, but one of the plot twists is truly underhanded. I hated her a little more after her rather epic trick mid-volume, but to be fair, it was a master stroke.

I can’t quite convey what a wild ride this volume is. I had a lot of reservations about this series initially, and probably only kept with it because I’m a huge geek. But this volume gave me pleasure that few other volumes can manage. Watching the two professionals compete, the ways in which they improve their techniques over the other, and watching how the improvements played out, was fantastic. I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m hoping that all the groundwork that we’ve read so far was simply leading up to this, which I can see only getting better if/when the series takes off. I literally can’t wait to read the next volume. I like a lot of manga, but I really, really loved this volume of Bakuman.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Bakuman 10

Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata – Viz – 2012 – 20 volumes

This is quite a talky manga, but man, I can’t help but get completely drawn in.

So Shujin and Saiko have to come up with a new series for Jump in the next six months, or they’ll never work for Shueisha again. They have three serialization meetings. Basically, they have to pull off something that most artists get routinely rejected for again and again. The Muto Ashirogi duo are good, but they’ve had their share of rejections, and the pressure is on.

This volume cycles through all three serialization meetings. Hattori coaches Miura from the sidelines, and Muto Ashirogi is instructed to first try an improved version of their first short story success, “The World is All About Money and Power,” then a battle-fantasy-humor manga, then… something else. I really couldn’t see where Hattori was going with all this, so I was flying through the volume waiting for the method to his madness. There’s something to it all, and it’s a very clever way to show two very talented creators (who know they’re talented) what their shortcomings are, and how to improve them.

Their successful formula at the end… I won’t say anything, lest I spoil it, but I loved what Hattori came up with for their final serialization attempt, and I liked the direction Akito went with it. The one thing that bothered me was that Hattori was praised for coming up with a new “genre,” but as the other characters point out… it’s something that you can find in a handful of series already. Otter No. 11 is the example within the series, but I would say Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a great real-life example. It’s strange they didn’t raise the specter of Jotaro Kujo in their deliberations.

The other thing that bugged me was the final serialization meeting. The condition for Muto Ashirogi’s continued employment at Shueisha was that they had to create a series that would be better than both of Eiji Nizuma’s current projects. There was… some disagreement at the meeting. A series that everyone at the meeting admits was far better than most Jump submissions, that they would have taken unconditionally any other time, was voted on and debated quite heavily because the editors weren’t sure if it would perform better than Nizuma’s series. A series that they all felt would be a sure hit was considered for rejection. In a magazine as super-commercial as Jump, this struck me as hilariously unlikely.

Basically, just more of the same thing, but I thought this volume was particularly good since Shujin and Saiko got to work on so many series to find what fit them best. And hearing the pros and cons of each debated was also pretty fascinating. Then again, I am a huge geek that has a blog with 3,000 reviews on it. I live for this stuff. I can easily imagine that this might not do it for a lot of people who normally enjoy Shounen Jump series. But if you’re as big a nerd as I am, it is utterly fascinating, even still.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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